Small Woods Contribution to Welsh Brexit Debate

Small Woods has contributed to the debate in Wales about how land management support schemes should change following our departure from the EU.

Wales is looking to chart a distinctive course for land based payments after Brexit and this consultation sets out some ideas about how.  The ineffectiveness of CAP schemes has been well rehearsed; however, the raw profitability figures are striking.  Whilst Total Income From Farming (TIFF) in Wales is €274m, the combined value of the current payment schemes is €289m.  The current farming schemes equate to payments in excess of Welsh agriculture’s total profitability.  In summary, the Welsh Government have concluded that “The current Basic Payment Scheme has not been a targeted intervention and is in essence a payment for holding land. It is too blunt a lever to improve economic performance, is too poorly targeted to keep farmers on the land and does not contribute sufficiently to our environmental resilience”.

So there is a clear basis for fundamental change.

In the woodland and forestry sector, we have a further issue and that is that the CAP has taken all land management resources, leaving little for forestry support.  The various consultations on the land management schemes in the UK have made it clear that a greater role can be and should be expected for our woodlands.

The Welsh Government proposes phasing out the current Basic Payment Scheme and replacing it with one that is based on two principles “Economic Resilience” and “Public Goods”.

Small Woods has welcomed the consultation and the direction of travel set out by the consultation.  However, we have asked for clarification that the overwhelming focus on farmers in the document does not lead them away from providing support to all land managers on a level playing field.  One of the issues with the previous support regime was that it led farmers to record woodlands as grazing land in order to maximise support; which also reduced natural regeneration, as it led to grazing in woods.

Our response emphasised the importance of hands on support at the local level to help deliver the change that will be required.  As well as making the best use of the local and national support networks that already exist, we suggested using organisations such as The Small Woods Association/Coed Lleol.  We have over 300 woodland owner members and represent over 3000 hectares of woodland across Wales.  We provide Information, Advice and Guidance to woodland owners and could play a very positive role in any advice and facilitation system.  We also work closely with other woodland organisations in Wales and meet regularly with at the Small Woodlands in Wales Working Group, whose members also include Coed Cymru, Llais y Goedwig and the Woodland Trust.

We particularly support the Public Goods argument for public support of land management.  We also support the idea that this should be structured and recommended that the public goods scheme should have a relatively easy access tier to encourage wide participation by land managers; however, the main “rewards” should be reserved to those who are providing higher levels of benefit.   We also encouraged consideration of Coppice restoration, alongside other forms of woodland restoration, such as PAWS.  Although other sorts of woodland restoration have been supported, we would welcome a specific reference to coppice restoration as desirable.  Re-establishing historic coppice management will help increase endangered and declining flora and fauna, such as woodland butterflies and the vascular plants on which they depend.

Our response covered a number of other issues, such as the role of collaboration, the need for long term contracts, the need to ensure that woodland management is given as much encouragement as is planting; and supported the idea that those providing multiple benefits, such as woodlands that are improved through management and whose products are then used in green infrastructure should be given particular support.   Our full response is accessible here.